Saturday, 2 February 2013

American Black Vulture

order : Falconiformes      Genus & Species : Cathartidae     Family : Coragyps atratus

The American black vulture spends most of its time soaring high above the ground, waiting for death to strike and leave behind the carrion it craves. The American black vulture uses its keen eyesight to spot its carrion meals; its bullying nature keeps others away while it eats. They found in the tropical and warm temperate regions of central and western Canada, throughout most of the U.S. and Mexico, and south to southern South America. 


Habitat : The black vulture lives in a variety of Western Hemisphere habitats, including coastal lowlands, forests, jungles and deserts. It flocks to open grasslands, the edges of cities and even to downtown urban areas, where the vulture rides the thermal air currents rising from the canyons of skyscrapers. No matter what the habitat, the birds are most likely to be found near something dead or rotting. The black vulture frequents city dumps, sewers, slaughterhouses and highways with roadkill. It also searches mangrove stands and other wooded areas where baby birds are left unprotected. After spending the day gliding and circling, it will return to roost, usually in tall trees. When not feeding, the black vulture is somewhat social, and is often found roosting with other birds, especially turkey vultures. 
Food & Feeding : Most of the black vulture’s diet consists of carrion and garbage; PICK AND CHOOSE it supplements this menu with bird nestlings, such as baby herons, and young turtles that have just hatched. When pressed for food, the black vulture will also attack larger live prey, such as calves, lambs, skunks and opossums.The vulture uses its thick bill with a hooked end to tear into flesh.Though it has strong claws for gripping prey, its talons are not sharp enough for it to strike from the air, as a hawk or eagle can. Black vultures congregate around a kill and grab what they can. 
Behavior : Black vultures begin their day soaring on air thermals in their continual search for food. They glide in circles and flap their wings periodically. Groups can range in number from a few vultures to over 100 birds. When food is spotted, the black vultures pour down from the sky. When it is not flying, the vulture often perches with its wings spread in the sun. The black vulture will mix with turkey vultures at roosting areas, usually in tall trees. In North America, the black vulture migrates to warmer climates, where it spends the winter. 
Breeding : Breeding begins in January and continues until July. Male black vultures compete with other males for a female’s attention, strutting past her with their wings partially spread and rapidly bobbing their heads. The female picks a suitable mate and a pair-bond forms. After mating, the pair usually does not build a nest. Instead, eggs are laid in hollow bases of trees or stumps, seldom more than 10–15' off the ground, or even in crannies of tall city buildings. Eggs number from 1 to 3, and have green, blue or olive tint and brown splotches. Both parents share incubation duty for 32–39 days. Nestlings are born helpless and naked but quickly acquire downy feathers. The parents bring back digested food and regurgitate it into the chicks’ mouths. Chicks can fly after 63–70 days, but usually do not leave the nest until they are 2–3 months old. 


Bill : The bill is thick, rounded and hooked; it is used for tearing the flesh of dead animals. 
Eyes : The vulture’s vision is very acute, allowing it to find its prey as it soars high in the sky. 
Head : The heads of both adults and young are bare and wrinkled, allowing the face to be kept clean when eating carrion. 
Feet : The feet have strong claws, but they are not as sharp as those of other birds of prey.The vulture doesn’t often need to attack living targets. 
In Flight : The black vulture is distinguished in flight by its short, square tail, which scarcely reaches past the hind legs, and wings with a flash of white at the tip. It makes several rapid flaps in a short glide; its flight is more labored than that of other vultures. 


Weight : 4.5–6 lbs. 
Length : 23-27"
Wingspan : 54-60"
Sexual Maturity : 1 year
Breeding Season : January–July 


Before sanitation services were developed, black vultures were commonplace at meat markets throughout the U.S. where they cleaned up scraps, keeping the areas clean and free of disease.